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ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) on Wednesday grilled National Accountability Bureau (NAB) chairman retired Justice Javed Iqbal for what it termed a media trial of political figures by leaking information and documents related to them.

Justice Iqbal appeared before the PAC to give them an in-camera briefing about the ongoing investigation into the Reko Diq project and the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF) scheme at Barakahu. The briefing continued for about half an hour followed by a question and answer session that lasted two and a half hours, sources told Dawn.

Mehmood Khan Achakzai, Syed Naveed Qamar, Sherry Rehman and Mushahid Hussain Syed were among those PAC members who extensively questioned the NAB chairman over the unofficial rele­ase of information to the media mostly in cases pertaining to politicians.

According to the sources, most of the PAC members were of the opinion that the leak of information against politicians regarding authorisation of an inquiry or investigation had damaged their reputation in society. Besides, the sources said, the politicians through the media trial were declared guilty even prior to the commencement of a trial in court.

Move to curtail powers of anti-graft watchdog opposed

Asked if there was any checks and balances system in the bureau, Justice Iqbal said about 220 NAB officials had been arrested over corruption and misconduct. NAB received about 100 complaints against its officials every day and over 400 inquiries were in process against its own officials, he said. When the NAB chairman was questioned if the bureau had ever proceeded against a person for lodging a fake complaint, Justice Iqbal mentioned two such cases registered for lodging fake complainants since 1999.

Justice Iqbal explained to the PAC that he was working on the restructuring of the anti-graft body and said a proposal in this regard would be tabled before parliament soon, the sources said. However, they added, he strongly opposed a move to curtail NAB’s jurisdiction and powers through any presidential ordinance or any other means. “It is better to close NAB offices rather than limit its powers,” he said, adding that parliament was supreme and they could shut the entire bureau or reject the proposal for restructuring the anti-graft body.

When a senator asked if NAB was repeating the same exercise that it had done during the regime of former military dictator retired general Pervez Musharraf, Justice Iqbal replied that NAB was not targeting a specific party or its politicians, but was working as per its lawful mandate, the sources said.

They said Justice Iqbal clarified his position explaining that he was neither under any sort of pressure nor was following any hidden agenda against any specific political party.

NAB has opened numerous inquiries and investigation against politicians, most of them belonging to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N). Recently the bureau summoned party’s supreme leader Nawaz Sharif in a two-decade-old inquiry related to the widening of a road in Raiwind.

The sources said he defended the re-opening of decades-old inquiries and quoted him as saying that the bureau was “clearing the backlog”.

Earlier during the briefing over the Barakahu housing and Reko Diq projects, the PAC was informed that the Reko Diq was a sub judice matter while the bureau would file a reference against the officials of the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation and a private contractor within 30 days.

After attending the PAC session, the chairman encountered media persons outside the committee room where he dispelled the impression about curtailing NAB powers.

Justice Iqbal also dispelled the impression that there was someone pulling NAB’s strings. He said: “Whenever someone tries to pull the strings, I will pick my briefcase to leave NAB for good.”

About inquiries into the Panama Papers allegations, Justice Iqbal said NAB had started investigation into the allegations against those named in the Panama Papers leaks and assured the PAC members that all pending inquiries would be done properly.

About the ambassador-designate to the United States Ali Jahangir Siddiqui, Justice Iqbal said steps had been taken to place his name on the Exit Control List (ECL) but a court of law had restrained the bureau from proceeding further in this regard.

When asked why NAB did not try to stop Nawaz Sharif from proceeding to the UK, he replied to the journalists that there should be some humanitarian consideration and said: “Even otherwise it is not my responsibility to stop him from leaving the country.

“The bureau has nothing to do with holding or not holding general elections and if anyone is involved in corruption, he has to face the music,” the NAB chairman said, adding that if someone would “prove any discrimination in any case, I will take the responsibility and will resign accordingly.”

About a clarification by former interior minister Aftab Ahmed Khan Sherpao over Justice Iqbal’s revelations a few days earlier that Gen Musharraf handed over about 4,000 Pakistanis to other countries when Mr Sherpao was the interior minister, the NAB chairman said: “Our interior minister had never been much powerful as to hand over people to other countries.”

Published in Dawn, April 19th, 2018